Vandalia Grille – Downtown, Charleston, WV
Update 1/23/09: Since our visit, the menu has been expanded. The Slider Sampler no longer appears on the menu currently on the Vandalia Grille website.
So when I heard that Chef Sadorra was going to do tapas at the former Vandalia Lounge location I had my doubts. Tapas had been done in Charleston with mixed results. The Bridge Road Bistro opened with a tapas menu, but switch to a more traditional bistro menu after the first year in business. The Bluegrass Kitchen has a tapas menu, but they are sized like lunch portions so it works with the East End crowd. Well, to my knowledge Chef Sadorra has yet to strike out when it comes to designing a menu and he hit a home run with the Vandalia Grill.
What is tapas?
“Tapa” means “lid” or “cover” in Spanish. Story is that back in the olden days, a slice of salty meat or a piece of bread was placed on top of the glass of sherry. This served two purposes. First, there were a lot of fruit flies flying around looking for something sweet. Oh, like sherry, maybe. The tapa protected the sherry from the invaders. Secondly, the salty meat, proscuitto for example, made folks thirsty thus increasing alcohol sales. Word of this new marketing strategy spread and soon bars all over were serving tapas along with the drinks. These days in the United States and England, tapas has evolved into an entire cuisine.
Serving tapas is considered to encourage conversation and socialization during the meal. The portions are appetizer-sized and usually a diner would order a few different items, or bar-hop and enjoy one item at each place along with a drink. The Vandalia Grille menu states:
“Small plates, big flavor. That’s what Vandalia Grille is alll about. We offer portions designed for sharing, and flavors you’ll be tempted to keep all for yourself. Sit back, order a few plates and a drink. Invite friends to share.”
True to Sadorra’s intentions, our party of six ordered a variety of items and we shared with each other. We ordered about half of what is offered, leaving only 8 items to our imaginations.
Here is a list of what we sampled and what we each thought of each item:
Slider Sampler – a sample size of each of the gourmet burgers offered on the menu – The Aloha, described below; The Gobbler, a turkey burger with spinach, gouda, carmelized onions and pesto aioli; and The Islander, Ground pork with pickled cucmbers, red peppers and wasabi aioli. Priced at $12.99 (does not include fries)
Dan- I ordered this dish so I could try every burger. I like to taste different things and each of these flavors were right up my alley. My favorite was the Islander. The texture of the pork, the sweet and sour pickled cucumbers (isn’t that just a pickle) and the hot of the wasabi hit all my taste buds. I’ll order a big version of this next time. The Gobbler was a fine burger and turkey burger officionados should order this one without question. Seeing how there is a turkey burger void in town with the seasonal closing of the Power Alley Grill. The best part for me was the pesto. Finally, the Aloha was also delicious. The beef is top notch, ground medium fine. The fresh pineapple might turn some away, but my sweet tooth likes it. All the burgers are served on what I believe is a brioche bun.
A note on price – I feel that this dish’s price point should be $9.99. Three little burgers are dwarfed by their full sized version, which I would pay $6.99 for instead of $5.99.
Susan- I did not try any of these burgers. First, they were small so I felt bad about asking Dan for part of each burger. Had he shared those with the table, he would have gotten only a bite of each. Secondly, they were expensive, so I felt bad about asking for part of his meal when he paid so much, yet received so little. Third, how do you share a burger? I mean really- how you cut a burger into a bunch of little pieces and get a bit of each topping? I am not a big fan of burgers anyway. That combined with the price tag means I will never order this dish.
Misty- I did not try any of these burgers, either. It just didn’t seem like an item that you would share with someone anyway. I did feel like these were a bit overpriced after seeing the size of the full sized version.
Phillip- Alas, I did not participate in the sharing either. Not because I can’t stand these people, but rather because I wasn’t feeling like gambling on the meal. Yes I’m a true food conservative–I stick with what I know I like. Daniel likes to say “Why not take the risk, it’s only one meal out of 10,000 in your lifetime.” But, I’ve personally seen the gleam in his eye when the food envy strikes because he got burned on his risky lunch. To each his own . . .
Aloha Burger – Full-size gourmet burger made of premium ground beef with grilled pineapple, red onion, green onions, green leaf lettuce and teryaki glaze. Priced at $5.99 (does not include fries)
Dan- Order this burger and you will be full. Makes any of those silly Ruby Tuesday burgers cower in the corner in every category: taste, size and value.
Susan- Again, I did not taste this item. It sounds intriguing though, because I love grilled pineapple. If I ever ordered a burger here, this is the only one I would consider. Another thought: the ground pork seems like a better match for the toppings because then it would be like a Hawaiian burger – you know, like Hawaiian pizza: ham and pineapple. Mmmmmm….
Misty- I didn’t try this item, either. But after seeing Phil’s and reading his review, I might try it…Well, if they were out of the Blackened Scallops (See review below).
Phillip-I did order the full sized Aloha burger with fries and I liked both. The pineapple and the glaze made the sandwich very sweet. The burger itself was thoroughly cooked (I don’t like pink) and very tender. Of course, that darkness in the middle could have been the teryaki sauce seeping through the burger. Regardless, I didn’t look too closely for fear of finding any traces of rareness. The sandwich did seem to fall apart, so I just ate it a little faster to prevent a mess on the plate. I was initially hesistant to not add my preferred toppings to the burger, but Daniel’s mantra prevailed–“Trust Delish [by proxy in this case] and it will be delish.” I’ve been impressed, in the past, with Virgil’s abilities to assemble great ingredients for different tastes and once again, he didn’t let me down. The burger is the best tasting burger I’ve ever had which didn’t taste like a burger. Hmm, does that make this an existentialistic burger?
Artichoke and Goat Cheese Pizza – personal-sized grilled pizza topped with artichoke hearts, goat cheese and roasted pepper sauce. Priced at $6.99
Dan- I like this pizza for the opposite reason Susan doesn’t prefer it. I love yeast raised crusts. The more doughy the better. She is carb-o-phobic. The goat cheese and red pepper sauce go well together. This is an another winner. I would like to see Virgil offer a pizza of the week with seasonal items. If it had roasted asparagus and a balsamic reduction Susan would probably pee down her leg.
Susan- The crust is too bready and lacks crispness, in my opinion. I prefer a very crispy, thin crust or the crust at Uno. Just thought I’d throw that out there for all the chain-haters like Dan. Looked like they were a bit skimpy on the artichokes, but a generous amount of cheese and sauce covered the lackluster crust. The flavor profile of the pizza was fine, but did not excite me. If Virgil decides to put balsamic vinegar on a veggie pizza one day I would be tempted to order it, but I am not tempted with the current selections.
Misty- I tried this item and it was OK. I liked the crust (but I like both doughy and thin crust pizza). The piece I had did not have any artichoke hearts on it, but I did like the cheese and sauce. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t fabulous…it was just OK.
Bibb Lettuce Wraps – marinated chciken, asian slaw and sweet chili-cilantro tamarind dipping sauce. Priced at $6.99
Dan- This dish is made for the carb-o-phobes. I personally would love this over some cous cous or udon noodles, but alas it is served with lettuce leaves. I wonder if this will be a menu staple when the lettuce quality goes downhill during the winter. Regardless it is a tasty and safe dish. It really isn’t spicy at all. If you are a picky eater this one is for Misty…I mean for you.
Susan- Now we are getting into the part of the menu I really enjoyed. The flavors in the chicken filling reminded me of the good ol’ days when I could go to Delish and order up some asian-fusion. There were some veggies in the mix, and I would like to see the veg content amped up even more. The sauce was sweet and flavorful. I would like more heat with the sweet, but I still enjoyed it as it was. I am not a fan of the asian slaw because I am averse to anything with a “pickly” flavor – the “pickle” in the slaw was not at all overwhelming (my face did not crinkle up into a sourpuss pout) so it was okay, but I left most of what I was given on the plate. I wrapped my first taste in one of the pile of fresh, green bibb lettuce leaves. The lettuce was tender and tasty, but I prefered just eating the chicken mixture with a fork. Next time, I think I’ll tear the lettuce up, slather it around in some of the sauce and eat it alongside the chicken like a salad. I liked this dish and would order it again.
Misty- Daniel knows my food choices well, well…almost. I did order this because I thought it was a “safe” order. I wanted something that was a little different, but not too different. And I agree with Daniel. This plate needs some carbs. In fact, I was thinking while I was eating this…”I wish I was more like Susan and packed my tortillas in my purse.” Don’t get me wrong, the lettuce leaves were big and looked great and I received a huge mound of them. The chicken was tender and not too spicy. I liked the cashew nut pieces on top. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more. Since someone mentioned it was pickly, I didn’t try the asian slaw. But, I really just thought this dish was OK. And I don’t think I would order it again- safe or not- unless they added some carbs!
Blackened Scallops – blackened scallops served with mixed greens, blue cheese, candied walnuts and raspberry sweet and sour sauce. Priced at $8.99
Dan- I love everything about this one. Sweet scallops, tangy blue cheese, and mixed greens. OK..I don’t love the nuts (mouth ulcers), but I know why they are there. Virgil is striving to touch all your senses. He has a variety of colors, textures (walnuts) and flavors in one dish. This a masterpiece and a bargin for $8.99. Heck I paid that much for two diver scallops at the Chop House (review coming soon). Susan was very nice to share this one and I don’t know why.
Susan- Awesome. The combinations of flavors and textures on my plate resulted in pure awesomeness. It was so very difficult for me to share that plate with the table, but since I expect others to do it for me…well, I had to return the favor. The four scallops were medium-sized, and lightly blackened. They were placed one at each of the four corners of the plate. In the center, a pile of mixed greens sprinkled with blue cheese crumbles and delightful candied walnuts await your fork. I had originally intended to pick around the walnuts, because I am usually offended by nuts adding a different texture to my dish. But these were sweet and light when I crunched them. And they tasted so good with the blue cheese and the yummy raspberry dressing. I wish I had another plate of it right now. Again, I would like a bit more heat to offset the sweet dressing, but most folks may not like as much spice as I do. This is a star on the menu. You should order it. Go to Vandalia right this instant and order this dish. It’s that good.
Misty- I was thinking about getting this dish, but didn’t because of the “blackened” term that was used. I ordered something “blackened” once (the waiter said it wasn’t that hot) and I swear it ate a ehole through my stomach…I couldn’t eat for days. Oh, the memory is still vivid and it was 15 years ago. Anyway, Susan let me try some of hers. She swore it wasn’t spicy, and it did look good, so I went for it. WOW. This was great. I loved everything about it. I loved the blue cheese, the candied walnuts, the dressing and the scallops. The tastes were great together. The scallops weren’t very spicy- a positive in my book. In fact, I loved it so much that Susan and I swapped plates and I finished off the rest of her dish and she was stuck with my chicken wraps. I think she felt sorry for me and noticed that I really didn’t like my chicken that well and I was going on and on about how great her dish was. She offered once and I declined- I felt bad about taking her great food . She offered again and well, I jumped all over it. After all, if someone offers twice, they must really mean it!!
In the future, a FYI to anyone who eats at the Vandalia Grille with me- I will be ordering the blackend scallops and I WILL NOT be sharing. In fact, I will stab your hand with my fork if you try to get something off my plate. You have been warned!
Rustic French Fries – originally frozen, fried crisp and served with two dips of your choice. Priced at $3.99 for a basket or $1.50 as an add-on to another item.
Dan- I don’t have much to say about these fries. They’re just fries. I bet they would have been good with some Heinz, but rumor has it there is “No Heinz for You!” On this day the special sauces were hard to come by, but the management made it right.
Susan- For frozen fries, these are pretty darned good. As I prefer to choke things down dry, I did not desire to utilize any of the dipping sauces offered to me and it was a good thing, since the fries arrived without sauce and a couple of varieties the table ordered never arrived. I think they ran out. No matter for me! I was greatly enjoying the fries plain. They were very crispy and about the shape and size of Wendy’s fries – so you got a nice amount of tender potato texture inside the crispy outer coating. I would order these again, except that I am in love with the sweet potato fries. Sorry Rustics-you’ve been outdone in your own restaurant.
Misty- I really liked these fries. When I ordered them, I requested 3 different types of sauces. I know the only one that finally came out with the rustic fries was the chili ranch sauce and I liked it. I can’t remember the names of the other two I requested as they never made it to the table. But they sounded really good and I was anxious to try them. I only knew about the variety of sauces because of a tip someone posted on the blog- That is why I asked for them. Note to Vandalia- put a list of these sauces on your menu…it sure would have helped me out.
Phillip-I did add the fries to my burger and was not disappointed in the choice. But then again, as my grandmother says, “I’m part Irish” and what Irishman doesn’t like potatoes. I’ve never met a potato which I didn’t like. Well okay, potato soup is the only waste of a potato of which I know. And yes, I did smother my fries in the only topping for fries–Heinz ketchup. Laugh at me if you must, but boy this ketchup with fries sure is good.
Sweet Potato Fries – originally frozen, lightly battered sweet potatoes fried crisp and served with two dips of your choice. Priced at $3.99 for a basket or $1.50 as an add-on to another item
Susan- In a word:fantastic! The light batter coating made the tender sweet potatoes crisp on the outside. My dream of crisp sweet potato fries has come true! The entire basket was hot and crispy all the way to the last fry, which I was willing to arm-wrestle someone to claim. I love that you can add a side of fries to any of the items, not just burgers, for $1.50 instead of a $3.99 basket. I think $3.99 is a bit too much for a basket of fries when they arrive at the restaurant frozen, but a side for $1.50 will entice me to order them every time. I did not try the dipping sauce because they were too perfect to ruin with a condiment. Even Dan had to admit they were very good. He didn’t have to say anything, though…the way he was scarfing them up. I had to elbow him out of my way a couple times.
Misty- I had never had sweet potato fries before. I don’t really like sweet potatoes, so I assumed I wouldn’t like sweet potato fries. Since I had an opportunity to try them, I did. My initial thought…These are pretty darn good. They were hot and crispy. I like the dipping sauces that came out with them. But after 10 or so, they started to lose their magic with me.
And now for our overall impressions of the restaurant and the dining experience.
Dan- This place is a home run. Skip corporate, over-marketed, unimaginative chains at South Ridge and head downtown for a unique meal in a comfortable setting, you won’t be disappointed. Park across the street or next door in a garage for $2.00/hr. If you’re in town for business walk three or four blocks from the Embassy Suites and gnosh with the locals.
I’ll let Susan describe the interior. I will tell you that that Chef Saddora doesn’t disappoint with his first full service venture in Charleston. FOUR Forks. I’d give another half fork, but you can’t eat with half of a fork.
Susan- I love the decor. It is decidedly modern, but with Victorian flair. For example, the bar has a very contemporary usage of lamps -they are hanging upside-down! But the lamps have an old-world style about them. The benches appear to be antique church pews, and there is a comfy upholstered Victorian chair beside the restroom, but very contemporary single benches by the Hale Street entrance. The combination results in an atmosphere that is cozy and exciting.
Overall I felt the pricing was reasonable. The only item I would say is overpriced is the Slider Sampler. My soda was surprisingly priced at only $1.59. Thank you for not ripping me off like all the other restaurants are doing these days.
The staff seem to truly care about you having a good experience at Vandalia Grille. We did have a few little snags but they more than made up for it and we left there very happy.
I will definitely return. The menu is a bit limited, for me, since I am not crazy about burgers or wings and the pizza crust didn’t thrill me. The items I didn’t love were just a matter of personal taste, not because they weren’t well done. However, I don’t think the remaining items in the tapas section are enough of a variety that I could make this a weekly or bi-weekly stop. It’s more of an every- month-or-so place for me. Maybe the menu items will change seasonally…. Wouldn’t that be a great idea? hint, hint, nudge, nudge.
FOUR FORKS. Oh, and have I said before that I would LOVE to see the dishes from Delish offered again somewhere?
Misty- I’m going to say…FOUR FORKS almost FIVE. The food was good- some of it was great. I agree with Susan, the menu is a little limited for me, so I probably wouldn’t want to go here more than once a month. But I am anxious to try the sauces next time!
Phillip-I’d have to say FOUR FORKS also. (Maybe I’ll give you five Virgil, if you tell me when Delish will be back or the recipe for the Udon noodle dish. It can be our little secret!) The price was a little high for Charleston’s typical fare, but a good chef deserves a little reward for his hard work and the tastes in the dishes were definitely well above typical fare.Vandalia Grille 212 Hale Street Charleston, WV 304-343-4110